BOGOTA – At least nine National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrillas were killed and one was wounded in a coordinated police-military operation in the northern Colombian province of Bolivar, the government said Thursday.
The operation took place in Morales, a municipality some 460 kilometers (285 miles) south of the Caribbean city of Cartagena, the provincial capital, the Defense Ministry said on Twitter.
The seven men and two women killed belonged to the ELN’s Luis Jose Solano Sepulveda Front, the army said in a statement.
The fatalities included the front’s commander, identified by the nom de guerre Reno, a veteran of more than 21 years with the ELN who has been linked to kidnappings and extortion schemes in Bolivar, according to the statement.
Security forces seized six rifles and other war materiel.
Bolivar’s southern region has a large presence of insurgents, mainly the ELN, which has been engaged since January 2014 in “exploratory conversations” on starting a peace process similar to the one Bogota has been pursuing with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for nearly three years.
President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated the security forces on Twitter for the “harsh blow dealt to the ELN,” adding that “Colombians’ protection and security is the priority.”
Six other ELN guerrillas – four men and two women, all of them members of the Jose Maria Becerra Front – were killed on Sept. 17 in a military operation in a rural area of El Tambo, a municipality in the southwestern province of Cauca.
ELN chief Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, alias “Gabino,” had said a week prior to that engagement that the two sides were “3 percent short” of completing the conditions to initiate negotiations.